Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson, giving the women what they want….1963.

I love these pictures of Jackie Wilson. They really give you the feeling of just what an incredible performer he was. He was one of a kind. His career was controlled by a syndicate of Detroit and New York mobsters including Nat Tarnopol and Tommy “Corky” Vastola aka The Gahloot (the Hesch character on the Sopranos is a sanitized composite of Vastola and Morris “Moishe” Levy). Both would later be convicted of crimes related to their music biz dealings. On one FBI wiretap you can hear John Gotti and Sammy Gravano discuss killing Vastola. Gotti wasn’t such a good judge of charachter, Gravano ate cheese, while Vastola kept his mouth shut and did his time. He’s still alive today, which is why I can’t really write much more about him, other than most artists he dealt with speak very highly of him. At least the ones I’ve spoken to. You can’t say the same for Edgar Brofman. I’d rather go back to the days when the mafia ran things than the current system of mega-corporate oligarchy, but that’s a whole ‘nuther posting, one I’ve been working on for a while.

Getting back to Jackie Wilson, who began his career as Clyde McPhatter’s replacement in the Dominoes, then went on to stardom at Brunswick Records. He had a tragic ending, suffering a stroke onstage in ’75 at an oldies show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He spent his final years paralyzed while various women fought over his half dead body (woman often fought over Jackie, he was shot by a spurned lover in ’61). He finally died in 1984 after nine years sitting in a chair vegetating. The best source on the subject, in fact, a must read for any R&B fan is Jackie Wilson: The Man, The Music, The Mob by Tony Douglas (Mainstream, UK, 2001). Jackie didn’t trust banks, or the IRS, so he kept his money in safe deposit boxes in the diamond district (48th Street) in New York. Where did it go? I wouldn’t want to speculate in public.
He never made a great live album, although their may be tapes out there like similar to the Sam Cooke one cut in Miami at the Harlem Square Club in ’63 that surfaced in the 80’s. It would be nice to hear the real Jackie Wilson, without the corny productions that mar many of his recordings. Still, he did make some great records– Reet Petite, Baby Workout, Whispers, etc. No point in posting them and risk getting my legs broken. The above clips are killer, and those pix tell the story in a way words just can not.
Addendum: In the comments section Barry Soltz mentioned the X-rated outtake of Think Twice, on which Jackie and Lavern Baker trade insults in a most profane manner. So, for those who haven’t heard it, I’ve added it, thanks for the reminder Barry. Dick Dale also refers to himself in the third person.

18 thoughts on “Jackie Wilson”

  1. The book Tony Douglas originally wrote (and was passed by the lawyers) was recalled & pulped after a law suit hovered over the project bought on by one of the women fighting over him in his vegetating wheelchair existence.Not exactly over him, but obviously the money.When the book finally surfaced, some interesting venal conduct by this woman & others was left out. It makes you sick reading it.

  2. I met this woman a few years back who was married to one of the Manhattans (Smitty I believe) back in the 60's. She told me that Jackie would often speak in the third person. He loved the ladies so he'd be backstage telling the ladies “come here, sit on Jackie's lap”. Got to see him live in Miami Beach around 1970-71. The man was phenomenal! Unfortunetly his recording legacy despite moments of brillance is mixed at best. I dare anyone to listen to his Al Jolson tribute LP! I suppose most readers here are familiar with the X rated version of Think Twice with LaVern Baker! -Barry Soltz

  3. Oh! I've met a few fellas who refer to themselves in the third person. It's fascinating. Love Jackie – I grew up listening to him w/my dad. I'm glad it was never made into a mediocre movie (so far – knock wood.) The big G. Yeah.

  4. I'm old enough to have seen Jackie Wilson several times in the early/mid 60's at Murray the K's Holday Shows in Brooklyn. No matter who the other performers were on these package shows (and Murray had just about everybody at one time or other), Jackie Wilson ALWAYS closed the show and tore the house down doing so.

  5. I remember reading about Jackie and the speculation of how much better his career might have been if he hadn't put so much energy into trying to be the “Black Mario Lanza”.Great dance moves that were obviously later appropriated by Michael Jackson. Wasn't Wilson an amateur boxer, also?That “Think Twice” cut is great. Who in the world would think they are ever gonna get the last word in on Laverne Baker ? Even Redd Foxx would have had a hard time.

  6. “if he hadn't put so much energy into trying to be the “Black Mario Lanza”.”But that's where his heart was at, his favorite song was Danny Boy, and he loved Al Jolson….” Wasn't Wilson an amateur boxer, also?”Yes, as was Berry Gordy and Screamin' Jay Hawkins,Champion Jack Dupree was a pro for several years.I had an amateur record of 14-1-1 from '74-6 in S. Florida.

  7. Seems as though Elvis was also a Jackie Wilson fan. On the Million Dollar Quartet recordings he can be heard talking about Jackie's performance of “Don't be Cruel”. He sounds really excited about the performance. I believe the performances he saw were in Vegas and that he caught 3 or 4 of his shows.

  8. “Seems as though Elvis was also a Jackie Wilson fan. On the Million Dollar Quartet recordings he can be heard talking about Jackie's performance of “Don't be Cruel”.”They were also friends, Jackie turned Elvis on to taking salt pills before his shows so that he would sweat more onstage, Elvis thought Jackie looked really cool all covered in sweat and Jackie shared his secret of taking salt tablets before hitting the stage to get the glandsgoin'. It's too bad the performance Elvis speaks of on the MDQ tapes (the Dominoes in Vegas) wasn't captured on tape. And they were both big Mario Lanza fans….

  9. He was the greatest!Re that Sam Cooke live alb: I was playing it last week. And I remember asking you, at the time, at the Great Jones Bar, if I should buy that one or another live Sam Cooke alb, and you said that one. Thanks for the guidance, Hound!

  10. ” Can anyone recommend some albums?”His best LP is Baby Workout (Brunswick) although it's long out of print, Ace Records has an excellent compilation called The Very Best Of Jackie Wilson (CDCHK 913) on CD that rounds up his best recorded sides.

  11. It's amazing how todays 'commentators' know so little about Jackie and his musical legacy. I have Jackie's “Jolson” album, and LOVE it…he did a great job on those songs. I also have EVERY recording he made…including some alternate takes that have NEVER been released…not even on “unauthorised” releases… and to this day very few people even know exist.Jackie recorded every style of music and he loved it all. Just because you might not care for something, don't put the man down for being able to sing the kind of music others only wish they could…”Baby Workout” was a good album, but there were better. That was a catchy LP, but his voice soared on song such as “Night”, “Doggin' Around”, “The Greatest Hurt” “I Just Can't Help It:”. Maybe not as “catchy” as “Baby Workout”, but that is where you see the man's talent…..I was fortunate to have know him for the last 13 years of his life and seen him perform over 150 times…what has NOT been told about this great man, could fill a book, and unfortunately, that will probably never be told.

  12. Can anyone comment on the role Joyce Moore, wife of soul Man Sam Moore played in the legal fight for Jackie Wilson's estate?

Spit it out, partner...

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